08 Feb Are you constantly tired? Your adrenals may hold the answer
It is estimated that roughly 80% of adults suffer from some level of adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, although it’s not a new concept, adrenal fatigue is actually not a medically recognised condition.
This leads to only the symptoms being treated, rather than the underlying causes.
THE ADRENAL GLANDS AND STRESS HORMONES
So what exactly is adrenal fatigue? Firstly we need to understand how the adrenal glands function. The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are referred to as our stress management organs because they release a number of hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol in response to stress.
Adrenaline is our short term stress hormone. It is responsible for the initial fight or flight reaction that we are all familiar with.
Cortisol is our long term stress hormone because it is secreted over a longer period of time during and after a stressful period. It is responsible for a number of physical changes in our bodies that enable us to adapt to long term stress.
Cortisol is also involved in a number of other functions within the body and so it is secreted in a diurnal (opposite of nocturnal) pattern, with levels highest in the morning and then tapering off, with levels lowest between midnight and 4am.
During a stressful event however, our adrenals will secrete extra cortisol to help us cope but this is only meant to be temporary. Today our lives are so busy, with so many pressures and responsibilities, that stress is virtually a constant in our lives. As a result, many people have chronically high levels of cortisol which throws off the natural diurnal secretion of cortisol.
Over time, when stress becomes chronic, the adrenals become ‘exhausted’ and can no longer produce enough cortisol to sustain normal bodily functions. And this is what’s known as adrenal fatigue.
STAGES OF ADRENAL FATIGUE
There are actually four stages of adrenal fatigue and each one will cause different symptoms. So as you read on, see whether you, or anyone you know, falls within one of these stages:
The first stage, is ‘The Alarm’ stage, which is our fight or flight response. Here we will have abnormally high adrenaline and cortisol levels. Some of the symptoms that we’re going to see include poor sleep, sugar cravings, irritability, anxiety, and palpitations.
Also, blood is shunted away from our internal organs and sent to our muscles to prepare us to fight or flee. This means our digestive function becomes compromised. Over time we are going to experience digestive issues like chronic bloating, irregular bowel movements and stomach ulcers if we are constantly activating our fight or flight mechanism.
Stage two is a state of “Chronic Hyperactivity”.
During this stage cortisol remains high while adrenaline returns to normal. A common symptom is feeling wired but tired.
One of the effects of cortisol is that it decreases serotonin and melatonin levels which may cause depression and insomnia over time. It is also an immunosuppressive which means that it will suppress immune function resulting in frequent infections and longer recovery time.
Stage 3 is a state of “Chronic Adrenal Hypofunction”. This is where cortisol levels finally drop and remain low throughout most of the day.
Common symptoms include constant tiredness especially in the morning, reliance on caffeine to get you through the day, low mood, low thyroid function, weight gain especially around the abdominal area, and low blood pressure.
Most people operate in stages 2 and 3 for many years but if treatment is not sought, and they continue to lead a stressful life, it can eventually lead to Stage 4 which is referred to as the ‘Exhaustion” stage.
Cortisol levels during this stage are extremely low. Some of the symptoms that we’re going to see here include extreme lethargy, depression, exhaustion after doing small tasks, diabetes and even cardiovascular disease.
STAY TUNED FOR PART II COMING SOON WHICH WILL EXPLORE ADRENAL FATIGUE IN MORE DEPTH INCLUDING TESTING AND TREATMENT OPTIONS